What a terrible thing it was that Joanne Yeates, the young landscape architect, was brutally strangled just before Christmas 2010. Our hearts surely went out to the grieving parents when they were on television. We must pray that the murderer will soon be found and punished.

However, I was upset by something else that happened in this case. I am well aware that the police have to do their job and need to follow up any leads. Also I know that not infrequently the murderer is someone close to the victim.

However, I remember watching the news when her landlord had been taken into custody. It was yet another case of trial by media. I said on more than one occasion as I watched: “A person is innocent until proved guilty.”  But in the modern news-entertainment media some people are guilty until proved innocent. And that was the case over this suspect. Yes, he perhaps looked a little wild – I think he was an ex-professor!

The more I watched, the more uncomfortable I became. In one sense it made no difference whether he was actually innocent or guilty. He was being convicted anyway. Covering themselves legally with words like “alleged” the media were able to “entertain” the viewers by implying he was a “horrible fiend.”

In the old days it would just have been local people who might have assumed his guilt. That’s bad enough. But nowadays the whole country is likely to conclude he was guilty without trial. How devastating it must have been for him. I wonder how he is now. He’s dropped out of the news-entertainment spotlight because he was released without charge. Will he ever get over it?

I hate to think of people’s lives being ruined by false accusation and by conviction without trial. I’ve seen too much of it over the years.

Little wonder, therefore, Jesus and the apostles are clear about how we should respond to allegations or suspicions. According to the teaching of Jesus:

  • We should not jump to conclusions about a person’s guilt, i.e. be judgmental. We should carefully suspend judgment and refuse to “convict” them without trial, even in conversation.
  • We should directly approach someone who appears to have done wrong to hear their defence or explanation and to assess the truth.

This is the Christian approach and it means we avoid becoming slanderers. The Bible is quite blunt about slanderers. It says a slanderer is a fool (Proverbs 10:18) who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10) and who should be avoided (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Quite!

Surely not!  He is so loving, kind and forgiving. Surely if I can’t forgive someone God, who is love, will still forgive me.

Well … actually, no! Listen to what he says: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15).

He says this immediately after teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer which, in the version we say in every service, states: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

In other words, if I say the Lord’s Prayer, whilst still not having forgiven someone or done all I reasonably can to be reconciled with them, those words are irrelevant. I won’t be forgiven.

It follows that when I say the confession I’m not forgiven, whatever the Minister says.  This is serious.

So if I go to God with unforgiveness in my heart and ask him to forgive me, he will say: Go and forgive the person you haven’t forgiven. Then, but only then, I will forgive you.”

What does forgiving someone mean?

It doesn’t mean:

  • We suddenly approve of what they (genuinely) said or did to upset us. We might still strongly disapprove.
  • We necessarily have to like the person or become close friends.

It means that:

  • We pray regularly for God’s blessing on them. Jesus said “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6: 28). That will help us to deal with temptations to be resentful or even hateful.
  • We let the other person know we are willing to forgive and be reconciled. Of course, they have to be willing too, otherwise reconciliation is impossible. However, even then, we must maintain a forgiving attitude and readiness to be reconciled.
  • We apologise if there is something to apologise for.
  • We act for their benefit, if an opportunity arises.
  • At the very least we seek to draw a line, establish a truce, and seek to relate positively to one another.

Many people, including some church-attenders know about Christ and believe things about him but they don’t actually know him.

However, the New Testament makes it clear that salvation and eternal life depends on knowing Christ. For example, Jesus said: “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3). Paul speaks of “of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Php 3:8-10) and urges Christians to “know him better” (Eph 1:17).

Peter wants Christians to grow in knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Christianity is a heart knowledge of Christ, not simply a head knowledge.

However, what does it mean in practice to “know” Christ? It is helpful to think of what it means to know any other person then to apply it as far as relevant to knowing Christ. The following points should help.

To know Christ is:

To know he lived, died for you, rose again and is alive for ever.

To know he’s there, very close by

To know he accepts you (if you have repented of sin and put your trust in him.

To know you belong to him and have a close connection with him

To know he’s all-loving

To know he’s listening

To know he’s watching.

To know he’s caring

To know he’s wonderful, to take delight in him and to adore him, telling him how wonderful he is.

To love him and to express that love to him. To know Christ is to know him in our hearts – to love him.

How to know Christ better

Start to talk to him

Find a quiet place

Ask him to reveal himself to you

Ask him to forgive you

Ask him to form that close relationship with you

Read about him in The New Testament.